QUESTION: You have, more than once actually, complained about the ubiquity of music in Southeast Asian restaurants, as if the mere presence of a karaoke machine or a cover band was enough to put you off your feed. But what about those of us who like a little music with our spicy Asian food?
Mike, Echo Park
ANSWER: The best music I have ever heard in a restaurant was at the long-gone Banteay Srey in Long Beach, a Khmer restaurant that regularly featured a young singer whose suppleness of line and purity of tone were just devastating. I know next to nothing about Khmer pop music except, of course, for Long Beachs own Prach Ly, a bilingual gangsta rapper who sounds a little like a Cambodian Ice-T but that woman was just amazing.
New Paradise is hardly unknown to habitués of Long Beachs Little Phnom Penh neighborhood. It was the first major restaurant in the area, and its menu of Chinese standards, enlivened with the occasional Khmer-style curried fish dip with raw vegetables or superbitter sadao salad, is still probably the most imitated in town. If you admire the sticky beef satays, fried frog with lemongrass, or hot-and-sour fish soup at places like Battambang or Hak Heang, youll find a lot to like about the cooking at New Paradise, especially if you lubricate it with Heineken on ice, which for some reason seems to be the proper thing to drink with Cambodian food.
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And the band isnt bad Khmer-language covers of Cantopop ballads and KRLA oldies performed with a certain verve by a band that sounds a bit like the Cambodian B-52s, often accompanied by a particularly graceful form of line dancing on the crowded dance floor, like a sock hop from a different dimension. Really, Im surprised Michael Mann hasnt found a way to work New Paradise into a movie yet. 1350 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 218-0066.